Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 06, 2015
 
Does your Bartle type determine your attitude towards Free2Play?

Dr. Richard A. Bartle showed in 1996 that players in the same persistent virtual online world / game can have very different motivations for playing. The concept was later much simplified as the 4 "Bartle types": Achiever, Killer, Socializer, and Explorer. During this week's discussion on Free2Play I stumbled upon some comments where people considered Free2Play as being rather harmless, as they couldn't see how somebody would spend too much money on them. Other people thought that it was perfectly possible to ruin yourself financially with such a game. And I began to wonder whether this difference in opinion could be explained with the Bartle types.

The games where we have evidence that some people actually spent thousands of dollars in a short time on are all PvP games, like Clash of Clans or Game of War. It appears obvious to me that these people are of the Killer Bartle type. And I can understand that somebody who has strong tendencies towards that Bartle type can consider Free2Play games as dangerous: If you can buy power with money, and use that power to win over another player, that easily can lead to a spiral in which your opponent then spends more money to strike back, forcing you to spend even more money, and so on, until somebody gives up or is broke. Games where you can buy power only at lower levels, but not infinitely to beat high-level human opponents are considered by Killers to be much less dangerous.

For an Achiever buying power to win is also attractive. But as the challenges the computer opponents pose are fixed, there is more likely to be an upper limit of how much money you can spend. Even if raid epics were for sale, one set of the highest level epics would obviously suffice for an Achiever. The main concern that Achievers have with Free2Play games is that they consider the epic gear to be not just the necessary equipment, but also as the reward for their previous achievements, a trophy showing their achievement to the world. If somebody else can buy that, it cheapens their achievements.

Socializers are a lot less interested in buying power, and are more likely to buy cosmetic items and fluff. It isn't impossible to overspend on that, especially since some cosmetic items are rather expensive (WoW sparkly pony $25, EVE Online monocle $70). But there is not so much pressure on a Socializer to spend money, as even for him the items remain more in the nice to have category than in the must have category.

In a way the Explorers are the luckiest of the Bartle types with regards to Free2Play. Sometimes companies just plain forget to try to monetize them. I don't know if it is still the case, but I was struck at the time how Explorers got the best deal out of the move of Star Wars: The Old Republic to Free2Play: Everything an explorer wanted, like the full story content, was for free. What you can sell to an Explorer is mostly more content, like DLCs or expansions. Again those don't come cheap, but as it takes the developers quite a lot of time to produce more content, Explorers don't have to pull out their wallet all that often. Explorers are most likely to be annoyed by day 0 DLCs and similar moves. But as long as they buy really new content, they usually feel they get a fair deal. Offering fresh content is also the least specific possibility, as all the other Bartle types will probably want the new content too, for different reasons.

Ultimately much of the conflict about Free2Play models is often about the fact that everybody would prefer somebody else to pay. When you hear somebody demanding that games should only sell cosmetic stuff, that person sure isn't a Socializer. If the item shop contains nothing that you actually want or feel you need, you can actually play for free. But I think that for fairness it would be best if Free2Play games sold many different items, appealing to all different Bartle types, so that the cost of running the game is spread around fairly.

Comments:
Good observation. The types indeed affect the opinion of players on F2P.

I believe killers support F2P since their purpose is unfair competition: ganking.

Achievers fight against it since the ability to buy the achievements cheapens yours (anyone can say that you just bought it).

 
I really think the fundamental flaw in all your arguments on this topic is that 'everyone thinks someone else should pay'. That's simply not true. I am happy to pay money for a game I enjoy because I believe developers deserve to get paid.

I don't believe developers deserve to get paid for just making any game. So if I don't enjoy a game I won't want to spend money or play it. There are tons of games out there and I'm more than happy to find the best ones and pay top dollar for them.

A cash shop that sells things I personally don't think should be sold is a game I will almost certainly not play, or pay for. Even if it's in a genre I'd probably enjoy otherwise. So the idea that a shop should sell everything to make everyone happy would almost certainly exclude me.

And yes, I do think for the most part that cosmetic items are a pretty safe bet. As long as you have a good core game there are plenty of people who will want to support the game by buying cosmetic stuff.
 
I am happy to pay money for a game I enjoy because I believe developers deserve to get paid.

Do you have any evidence that there is a majority of people thinking like you?

I recently saw a funny article somewhere, where the author collected bad Steam reviews. Those Steam reviews by default contain the number of hours the reviewer played the game. And the joke in the article was that people spent hundreds of hours in a game and then gave it a review saying "this game totally sucks, worst game ever, you shouldn't touch this". I think it is safe to say that these players wouldn't voluntarily give money to the dev of that game.

My argument is that if you play a game for many hours, you owe the devs money. And if you can't be relied on to hand over that money voluntarily, it is better that the dev makes you pay by selling you stuff that you need to continue playing. After all, if you hate the game and DON'T want to continue playing, you don't need to pay.
 
"Do you have any evidence that there is a majority of people thinking like you?"

LoL and CoD, two of the biggest games out.

LoL caters to the largest group out of the four types (killers), but doesn't sell power, and the majority of revenue comes from fluff (skins).

CoD DLC is all fluff (weapon skins), yet it gets produced by the truckload.

The flaw here, in addition to what Nick said, is believe that, for example, a killer type is actually interested in being a wallet warrior, when games like LoL clearly show that killers AVOID wallet-warrior games.

Most people play games to actually play them, not to throw money at the screen. The throw money people (whales) are a very tiny minority, and while some games do a good job of separating fools from their money, the most popular games out right now across all platforms aren't those type of games. The days of Farmville being a huge thing are gone, because that trick doesn't work long term, and you can only fool most people once.
 
I read a link about whales a couple of days ago, and the one I remember best was clearly a 'socialiser'. He spent large sums sending armies to help out his online friends. I do believe this can be a strong motivator for many, who may be getting thanks and appreciation that they cannot easily find offline.

I'd guess all these 'types' can pay money in these games, but killers and socialisers are the main two. Achievers have to be of the self-deluding subtype. Explorers will buy extra content, or will buy random stuff to try it out, but I doubt they make good 'whales'.
 
Every time you bring this up, I have to point out that I believe very few players fall into just one archetype. Yes, they will probably be more interested in one than the others, but analysis along the lines of "killers only care about X and care nothing about Y" tends to be total bullshit.
 
I saw a pretty interesting talk by Teut Weidemann a few days ago. He made some pretty interesting remarks about Bartle and f2p. If you don't know it, you might be interested:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3OGGqZsPQw
 
Interesting idea. FWIW it's a good explanation for how my playstyle and the things I enjoy doing affect what I buy and what I'd never even consider buying.

The stuff I pay for is pretty exactly interesting-new-things-to-explore. New geography, new stories, new classes, new game systems.

On the other hand I find it hard grasp why anyone pays $10, $20 and more for cosmetic stuff. Ditto for small stat boosts and the like, perhaps because I don't PVP nor do top-end raiding.
 
I believe that Bartle is correct in his summation of the types of players, and this is a very good post that touches on one key aspect of the issues I have with F2P - in that developers KNOW these types, and they fashion their game design around these types of players. The problem, as you hinted, is when the game is designed to actively -target- a single player type. There is no ethical consideration in this on the part of the developers, and it is what drives the disdain of the F2P concept, especially in games where the "free" players are viewed as necessary "fodder" for the money-rich, paying customers.

Here's the 64-thousand dollar question though: Bartle fails to demonstrate in his descriptions of the different types, just exactly which types are populated by the money-rich and time-rich players, and what percentages of these two types populate each of his archetypes? I think an honest assessment of that question would demonstrate the fallible nature of F2P.
 
Bartle fails to demonstrate in his descriptions of the different types, just exactly which types are populated by the money-rich and time-rich players, and what percentages of these two types populate each of his archetypes?

Somebody today linked a video where a game designer was telling an anecdote from the days of Ultima Online: Many of the worst player killers in UO were doctors or firemen, professions that rather help people than hurt them. A game gives them the opportunity to roleplay a different set of behavior rules, without real consequences.

But because people can play so different roles in a game if they want to, I don't think there is a correlation between real world situation and in-game role. The successful businessman might just be content fishing in WoW, or he might let his competitive streak run wild in PvP. I haven't heard of anybody collecting data on that, and I suspect there simply is no link.
 
I think you have a point, Tobold. As an Explorer primary I find F2P generally works rather well for me. I then to hit few restrictions, as a direct result of the F2P monetization mode,l on the things that interest me and I can try out and "explore" far more MMOs than I would be able or willing to sub.


 
Geez. I gave got to stop live-editing my comments as I post them. That came out as gibberish. Here's the readable version:

I think you have a point, Tobold. As an Explorer primary I find F2P generally works rather well for me. I tend to hit few restrictions, as a direct result of the F2P monetization model, at least on the things that most interest me, and I can try out and "explore" far more MMOs than I would be able or willing to sub.
 
Just for statistic purposes: I don't really PvP but I love F2P PvE, and yes - I am an "Explorer" type. :)

Also, unlike Nick (2nd comment), I'm one of those who never pays, even in games I like. I quite enjoy the "free" section of "free to play".
 
I reckon you're bang-on.
 
I think I'm a pretty fair mix of Explorer, Achiever and Socialiser.

FTP games are cheap to me, but I do think they tend to lead to bad design.
 
I have actually touched on this, albeit from a slightly different direction - cheating. See the slides from a talk I gave in 2012 here: http://mud.co.uk/richard/Lincoln.pdf .
 
@Richard Bartle

You indicate in slide #29 that the F2P model is based on exploiting the friction between player types.

Do you think that each of your four player types are populated equally by time-rich and money-rich players, or are some player types more heavily populated with one over the other?
 
@Chris
I think that whole time-rich/money-rich dichotomy is a red herring. I remember seeing the argument developing maybe ten or more years ago when money-rich people were attempting to justify why it was OK for them to break the TOS and buy gold from gold farmers. It's since then been carried over to the F2P arena, where the equivalent rich people are again attempting to explain why it is that buying success in a game is fine.

In practice, people who are often money-poor are time-poor too. They work long hours, they come home exhausted, they just want to flop in front of the TV or spend some time with their kids. They don't want to spend time playing a game in which they will be effortlessly overtaken by people who are richer than they.

In contrast, people who are money-rich are often time-rich. Being paid a lot doesn't mean you must be spending a lot of time working to get that pay. There are plenty of bored rich people out there.

Now of course, there are exceptions. Students might be time-rich and money-poor for example. They may indeed want to put off working on their assignments to spend hours grinding their way through deliberately-boring content in order to reach the next fun part. Doctors might be money-rich and time-poor. They may indeed wish to wind down after a long day without having to grind their way to the next fun part - and they have the wherewithal to pay for that privilege.

However, there are so many people who are time-and-money-poor or time-and-money-rich that this is a false distinction. Remember, it was originally proposed to justify gold-farming, which is why the time-rich, money-poor supposedly benefitted (they actually got money, albeit at a below minimum wage level). The only benefit that the time-rich, money-poor can claim today is that they get to spend time bored until they can do something fun again for free.

In F2P, the rich who want to buy success are going to do so regardless of whether or not they are time-poor. The poor who want to play are either going to have to grit their teeth or not play at all because they don't have time.

Besdies, does "time-rich" even mean anything anyway when the biggest obstacle placed in players' way is a time lock? You may have 4 hours to spare, but if you can't play until tomorrow (unless you pay) then what use is it to you?

As to your original question about whether time-rich and money-rich players are distributed evenly among player types, the answer is that it depends on the MMO. In the early days of commercial MUDs, it cost so much to play them that you had to be both time-rich and money-rich to play. We had players who were lawyers, actors, surgeons, jewellers, chain store owners, ...

I guess that the thrust of your question is that if one type is more populated with people willing to pay, then payment opportunities for those people should be created in preference to payment opportunities for other types. OK, well there's scant public evidence on this, but it does exist. There was a GDC talk once on GoPets that determined an individual achiever in a socialiser-heavy world would bring in 44 times more than would a socialiser, and an explorer would bring in 66 times more. You wouldn't want to encourage killers no matter how much more they paid, because then your socialisers would all leave and you'd be left with nothing.
 
@Richard Bartle

I think that whole time-rich/money-rich dichotomy is a red herring. I remember seeing the argument developing maybe ten or more years ago when money-rich people were attempting to justify why it was OK for them to break the TOS and buy gold from gold farmers.

My perspective on this is a bit different than yours. My recollection is that the time-poor/money-rich debate developed around the notion that the money-rich players wanted to be on equal footing with the time-rich players, and not to split hairs, but whether they were buying gold from gold farmers in a game such as WoW, or buying gold ammo in a TOS supported game like WoT, the position of the money-rich players has predominantly centered around the notion that "time is money", as if they were missing valuable work time by being subjected to the grind elements of any particular game. To me, this is the red herring of the debate, because a good majority of F2P titles directly pit the money-rich player against the time-rich player with the design of their monitization schemes. When the "free" players are viewed as providing necessary content, server population or fodder for the money-rich types, you have, IMHO, bad game design.

This isn't directed at you, but I take issue when someone calls the "free" players of F2P games "bad gamers", simply because they choose not to pay after encountering purposefully constructed paywalls, demonstrable Pay2Win situations or just bad game design.

At any rate, thank you for taking the time to respond.
 
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